Laws which affect Employee Wellness Programs

If you are planning to launch an Employee Wellness Program, as an employer, you need to be aware of the relevant legal restrictions.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination. Benefits, incentives and rewards and programs need to be applied equally to men and women. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are 40 years of age or older from discrimination based on age. Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against qualified people with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments. Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

Apart from these laws, there are even more stringent restrictions with regard to Medical Care problems. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) governs most policies, communications and data collection regarding employee health and provides that corporations cannot deny eligibility for benefits or charge a higher premium on the basis of:

• Health status
• Medical condition (including both physical and mental ailments)
• Claims experience
• Receipt of medical care
• Health history
• Genetic information
• Evidence of insurability (includes activities such as riding a motorcycle, skiing, snowmobiling and other similar pursuits)
• Disability

However, HIPAA’s nondiscrimination provisions are not completely applicable because wellness programs may not include healthcare treatment or be insurance related, and may instead be confined to behavioral initiatives. To address this issue, and in order to help clarify the lawful provisions of a “bona fi de Wellness Program” in the context of HIPAA’s existing language, in 2001, the American Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service and the American Department of Health and Human Services jointly issued a proposed regulation. The regulation is not yet final but the government will recognize the effort of the businesses which comply with the measure.